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The world’s greatest secret

 

As far back as the fourth century, historians called Christian life “the discipline of the secret.” However, much earlier, before it was called anything at all, it was a deeply ingrained discipline that had life of death consequences.

Of the 249 years from the first persecution under Nero (64) to the year 313, when Constantine established lasting peace, it is calculated that the Christians suffered persecution about 129 years and enjoyed a certain degree of toleration about 120 years. There is no way to know for certain, but it has been estimated that as many as one million Christian men, women and children perished in martyrdom during this period.

It took a long time for people to believe that the persecutions were really over. There was a latent fear of renewal for many years. Secrecy survived in the East until the fifth century, in the West until the sixth. When partially trusted strangers or new converts attended Christian rites, they were allowed to remain for the first part of the prayers and ceremonies. They were required to leave before the Eucharistic celebration. The first part of the Mass was designated for “the catechumens” and the rest designated for “the faithful.” The Eucharistic celebration was the most carefully guarded secret in all history. It was referred to as “the secret” until 1964 when Vatican Council II removed the label of secrecy and openly substituted “Liturgy of the Eucharist” for “Secret of the Mass.”  

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